The Australian Labor Party’s aged care policy has been welcomed by the industry, with many calling on the Coalition to release their plans for the embattled sector.

The ALP’s policies include: ensuring all aged care facilities have one registered nurse on duty at all sites 24/7, to require that nursing homes publish their skills mix, and to provide more opportunities for specialist dementia training.

The ALP has pledged to:

  • “immediately” investigate ways to ensure older Australians most at need are prioritised to receive home care packages,
  • provide 20,000 training place at TAFE for aged care workers to obtain or improve their qualifications,
  • ensure residential aged care facilities have a registered nurse on duty and on site, 24/7,
  • publish the skill mix of the workforce employed at every residential aged care facility to ensure the appropriate skills mix of properly trained staff is present at all times,
  • look at ways to increase the number of GPs working in aged care,
  • to provide greater incentives for GPs to do home visits,
  • address inadequate staffing in aged care by speeding up implementation of the Matter of Care aged care workforce strategy,
  • make care of Australians living with dementia a national priority,
  • make it easier for people living with dementia and their families to interact with the government, Centrelink, aged care providers, and the broader health care system, and
  • improve the workforce’s understanding of dementia through better training, including scholarships for nurses and carers to undertake specialist dementia care training.

The ALP also said it will improve support for communities with specific aged care needs, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the culturally and linguistically diverse, and LGBTIQ communities.

Government will not fund higher wages for aged care workers

Meanwhile, Bill Shorten told the ABC’s Insiders program his government won’t extend the wage subsidies promised for childcare to the aged care sector.

“We won’t be subsiding wages in the same way,” he said.

Mr Shorten said his government will get “wages moving again” in other sectors by restoring penalty rates, making it easier to run pay equity cases, and by clamping down on dodgy labour hire firms and “sham contracting”.

90% of nurses, carers unable to provide basic care due to inadequate staffing: survey

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation welcomed the ALP’s announcement of its aged care policies, which come in the wake of the union’s national aged care survey last week which revealed that 90 per cent of nurses and carers were unable to ensure aged care residents received even basic care, such as feeding and toileting, because of inadequate staffing levels.

The ANMF made particular reference to its  support of the ALP commitment to require an RN be rostered on-site at all nursing homes at all hours.

ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler commended Mr Shorten and the ALP for recognising the crisis in aged care and committing to take immediate action.

“This is positive news not just for hard-working nurses and carers in the aged care sector but for nurses working across the public hospital system,” Ms Butler said today.

“Nurses working in stretched emergency departments and acute hospitals, who see many presentations and admissions of older people to their services due to inadequate care, will welcome the start of action to reduce the load on the overburdened public hospital system.

“And nurses and carers working in aged care will, I think, be almost in disbelief that a government, if the ALP is elected, will actually start acting to address the crisis situation they are in,” she said.

Sector should not have to wait until after the royal commission

General Secretary of the NSWNMA, Brett Holmes, said failings within the aged care sector were widespread and well documented, and the sector should not have to wait until after the Royal Commission for action to be taken.

“We welcome the Opposition Leader’s announcement as a positive step towards addressing the aged care crisis, in particular, recognising our long running campaign to ensure there is a registered nurse on duty at every aged care facility, on every shift,” he said.

“We urge the Liberal-National Coalition to at least match, if not improve on, what has been promised by the ALP today,” he said.

“We commend the focus on specialist, dementia care training”

Dementia Australia issued a statement praising Labor’s promise to improve the care of Australians living with dementia.

Dementia Australia Chair, Professor Graeme Samuel AC said the 447,000 Australians currently living with dementia and the 1.5 million people involved in their care will be heartened by Labor’s announcement.

“At last the focus in this election is on what can be done now and not pushed aside while awaiting the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety,” Prof Samuel said.

Dementia Australia CEO, Maree McCabe said dementia was the largest health and social challenge facing Australia.

“In today’s statement by Mr Shorten we commend the commitment to increasing aged care training, in particular the focus on the specialist, dementia care training and building the appropriate skills mix of all staff involved in the care of people living with dementia,” she said.

“The appropriate skills mix in aged care is just as important as staffing numbers when caring for people living with dementia.

“Making the system less complicated, with better access to home care packages is an essential step in the right direction, especially when it comes to supporting people’s choices to stay at home, as long as  possible, and engaged in the community around them.”

Aged care operators facing a “financial crisis”

Leading Age Services Australia “cautiously” welcomed the announcement, saying Labor policies address some of the key issues in the sector and are “generally good news” for both older Australians and the sector.

CEO Sean Rooney said, ”We welcome Bill Shorten’s commitment today that he will take decisive action if elected next Saturday.

“We particularly welcome the ALP’s plan to fix the unacceptable impact on the nearly 130,000 older Australians waiting for a home care package.”

“The ALP’s commitments must be backed by sector funding that reflects the true cost of care and provide flexibility for operators to attract and retain the right mix of staff to best meet the individual needs of their residents and home care clients,” Mr Rooney said.

But Mr Rooney said any additional nursing staff would need to be fully funded and measures would have to be put in place to recognise the challenges for providers in accessing qualified nurses, particularly in rural and regional settings.

Mr Rooney said the sector remains deeply concerned about the financial crisis facing residential aged care providers.

“The next Government must address as a matter of urgency… an estimated 43 per cent of facilities [are] currently operating at a loss,” he said.

Mr Rooney said LASA is now urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison to announce the Coalition’s plans for the sector.  

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